The Madison chapter of Black Men Run recently kicked off its 9th year of Saturday morning run/walk exercise at the UW Arboretum in downtown Madison. Every week, Black men from all walks of life come together to focus on their health and have some fun, exercise, and camaraderie in the process.

Aaron Perry, the founder of Rebalanced-Life Wellness Association, started Black Men Run Madison back in April of 2016 to fill a dire need in Dane County.

Aaron Perry

“What happened at the time was that I was really looking to see how we could reach Black men and encourage Black men to take their health more seriously,” Perry tells Madison365. “We were seeing in social media and everywhere a lot of Black men dying. And I felt like we’re just getting way too comfortable with death and we needed to do something.”

Perry started looking around and found the national Black Men Run group, which originated in Atlanta.

“I reached out to them I sent them an email, and they responded right away and we had a great conversation and they blessed us with a chapter here in Madison,” Perry says. “So that was really the beginning. Ever since then, I’ve been leading this movement of Black men innovating our way out of despair.”

Every Saturday morning when Black Men Run meets, they will do anywhere from one to six miles of walking and running. “Our rule is no one gets left behind. So if someone only can do a mile then someone will walk a mile with them, and then walk back, but no one gets left behind,” Perry says.

Mandela Barnes, then Wisconsin’s Lt. Gov., captures a Black Men Run moment.
(Photo courtesy of Aaron Perry)

Since it first started, Black Men Run has added blood pressure screenings and diabetes testing, and they are currently working on a procedure to distribute the Cologuard at-home colon cancer screening kit since Black men have some of the highest rates of colon cancer. Perry calls Black Men Run the “disrupters of the current care deliveries.”

“We have to figure out how to get diabetes and high blood pressure in Black men under control so that they can get completely off their medications over time because a lot of the research is showing that for extended periods it’s not good to be taking so many medications,” Perry says. “So the goal is to try to encourage Black men to utilize Black Men Run and utilize physical activity and, more than anything, be around for their families. And that’s really the goal of this. 

“So Black Men Run Madison is really just a disrupter of the current care deliveries. We’re just trying to do something different.”

Perry takes multiple photos at every meeting of Black Men Run. It helps him keep track of the attendees over the years.

“We’ve had a total of 670 guys run with us [over the years]. We’ve also had about 75 guys come from out of town to run with us,” he says. “These are guys that came in from Florida, Michigan, North Carolina, Iowa, etc.

“The bottom line is: how do we close the gap between today and what’s possible? What I tell guys is: ‘Let’s not continue to look back and assess blame. Let’s look forward. And let’s look at what we have in front of us,'” Perry continues. “Because we spend way too much time looking back. My goal is to really start a movement looking toward the future. And so how do we close the gap between today and what’s possible and that’s what’s most important.”

For many years, Perry has been deeply connected with Madison’s Black community, especially Black men and youth, while helping under-represented communities have the opportunity to live fuller, healthier lives. Perry’s Rebalanced-Life Wellness Association made history when it launched the groundbreaking Men’s Health and Wellness Center inside of JP Hair Design, the largest Black barbershop in Madison. The Center is an innovative health model for reducing health disparities that works with businesses, corporations, community-based organizations, health educators and the faith community to create an awareness of the major health concerns affecting African Americans and to actively promote a healthier lifestyle.

Black Men Cycle

Perry was recently recognized as one of America’s Top CEOs in Healthcare by Health Evolution. “It’s such a huge honor to be recognized on a national level like this,” Perry says.

To recognize National Mental Health Awareness Month in May, Perry recently announced that comedian Earthquake has accepted his invitation to join his Black Men’s We Matter Conversation #2 on Saturday, May 4, 11 a.m.-1 p.m. in the Lower-Level Fellowship Hall at Second Baptist Church in Madison.

On top of Black Men Run, Perry has started Madison chapters of Black Men Cycle and Black Men Hike. 

“We ended up creating Black Man Cycle Madison when [Black Panther actor] Chadwick Boseman passed away of colon cancer. We did an honor ride, and in his recognition, we had about 30 guys that showed up,” Perry remembers. “Since then, we’ve kept it together. And so we do our Black Men Cycle Madison on Sundays, we do Black Men Run on Saturdays, and then we are also starting to incorporate Black Men Hike and we do that with Christopher Kilgore and James Edward Mills.”

All of the events are a great chance to get exercise and stay healthy, but it’s also a chance to meet other men and talk about your health. The men often inspire each other.

“For Black Men Run here in Madison, people will see the mountain top, but they won’t see the climb and what I mean by that is that they’ll see the photos of us exercising and having fun, but there’s a lot that goes on in between there,” Perry says. “We have guys that are hurting, that have had losses in their families and they come out and we hold them, lift them up, we carry them. At Black Men Run here in Madison … and it’s the same nationwide … we really are about helping to lead Black men and innovating our way out of despair.”

Next year — year number 10 — will be his last year for Perry leading Black Men Run, and he is currently looking for a new person to lead the group.

“It’s been quite a ride. At some point toward the end of the year, we’ll be announcing who’s going to succeed me. But it will be someone that has to be committed to Black Men Run and our mission … who has to want to be there,” Perry says. “There have been times when I was the only one to show up, but as the captain, I still have to be there. So during this year, I’m going to be looking for a successor, someone that could really see the value in this group and keep this thing going strong.”